Tom & Charlene's Excellent Adventures travel blog

Sunset over the Rockys

Elk Herd


Up close & personal

The parade over the hill and across the road

Continental Divide


Lodgepole Pine Forest decimated by Mountain Pine Beetle



Heading out from Longmont we followed scenic Rt. 7 on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park. Checking with the Ranger as we arrived were told the only campsites in the Park were at Timber Creek. Meaning a 40 mile trip to the west side of the NP – which he said would take 2-2.5 hrs. He wasn’t off by much! The traffic was horrendous. We passed pullouts and overlooks filled to capacity, no parking spots available. If there was a bit of berm there was a vehicle parked on it. Most of the road was shear drop off with no guardrail. The road passes over the highest peak in the Park, 12, 183 ft. We could see multiple mountainsides with complete forests of dead pine trees. The Mountain Pine Beetle has infested most of the forests, especially the Lodgepole Pines. The beetle lays its eggs under the tree bark. When the egg hatches the larvae feed on the tree and effectively kills it. The healthy trees are being sprayed with insecticide but it is too late for many acres of pine trees.

When we reached Timber Creek there were 12 spots left and a mad dash to claim a site. Each sites had a parking pad, fire ring and dedicated tent area. We staked a claim on site #55 by me staying at the site & Tom going to the office to register. Love our Senior National Park Pass – ½ price camping - $7.00/night. We signed up for 2 nights to assure we would have a place to land Saturday. The Timber Creek Campground has been clear cut because of the beetle infecting all the tree.

Estes Park is on the east side of Rocky Mountain. It is a very developed area with plenty of restaurants, hotels and entertainment. The nearest restaurant on the west side is 10 miles at Grand Lake or further down the road at Granby. We opted for Granby. Stopped at the Road House based upon the number of cars and trucks in the parking lot. The place was busy. It lived up to our expectations. Very good food and our entertainment was watching the locals arrive and interact. By the time we left there wasn’t an empty seat in the place.

43⁰ Saturday morning – Brrr! Got an early start heading east on the park road. We reached Milner Pass and the Continental Divide. We tried to hike to the top. Followed the trail about a mile over a stream, through rocks and grass without making any progress up. Met a couple coming back who told us there were no marking on the trail and over the hill it had 4 forks with no indication which one to follow – we turned around! In the parking lot we met Diane, a volunteer in the park and her friend, Carol. They were looking for a ride to Alpine Center so they could leave their car at Milner and hike back to it from Alpine. We agreed to take them. The gals were from Michigan, but we didn’t hold that against them. They rode in the bumpy back. Diane gave us several tips about places in the park and where to look for Elk. About 3 switchbacks after dropping them off at Alpine we found a small herd of elk sunning themselves on a roadside slope. As we found on a trip to Yellowstone – if cars are on the side of the road there is wildlife nearby! We were turned away on the drive to Bear Lake. Absolutely no parking spaces available. We visited the Moraine Visitor Center hoping to be able to go to Bear Lake later. When we came out of the VC cars were still being turned away and the line was longer than earlier. A wedding party and guests arrived at the Moraine parking lot. We found that areas of the park could be rented for wedding services.

We attended Saturday evening Mass in Estes Park. Fajita Rita’s, an “authentic” Tex-Mex restaurant, was our choice for dinner. Food was very good and helpings generous. We started the 40 mile trek back to the campground at 7:15. We were delayed 3 time because of Elks on the road. Lots of Elks! They wandered onto the road, sometimes stopping in the middle. It was just dusk for the 1st two encounters. There was full darkness when we came upon the third group. A little scary but at the same time exciting. They sure didn’t give a care about us. Several miles later a moose was running in the field next to the road. When Tom stopped and I rolled down the window for a picture he turned tail and ran the other way. Interesting trip home.

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